Canary Islands crisis addressed by ICMC Secretary General
GENEVA 5 September 2006 (ICMC) — Following the recent wave of migrants that have landed and continue to land in the Canary Islands, most in appalling conditions, ICMC wishes to express grave concern about the factors that lead to such dangerous migration and the response of government and civil society.
Over 1,600 African migrants reportedly reached the Canaries over these past weekends, joining a record 6,000 arrivals in August and 20,000 since January compared with only 4,751 for all of last year.
Considering that migrants make this voyage primarily from Mauritania and other West African countries across treacherous waters in open, overcrowded and often unseaworthy boats, present flow of migrants calls again for immediate attention and organized responses.
In particular, "it is important to consider the full context of the seemingly sudden movements of migrants," urges Johan Ketelers, Secretary General of the International Catholic Migration Commission in Geneva. The dramatic rise in the number of migrants arriving in the Canary Islands is partly due to the fact that other channels of migration have increasingly been closed, particularly routes that migrants have long taken through Morocco."
"While recognizing the sovereign right of nations to control their borders," Mr. Ketelers added, "the focus should not be on the symptoms but on the reasons why human beings are compelled to take enormous risks in trying to migrate to a new country."
For some, the answer may be that they are fleeing for their lives or from persecution in their own country. For them, fundamental international law prohibits any state from pushing them back (refoulement) unless any claim they might individually make for asylum is properly considered. "It is absolutely essential to be vigilant for those who have such a need for protection, to look for them and offer that protection", Mr. Ketelers underscores. "Every one of these very often dramatic situations is an alarming reminder of the hopeless situations that drive people to do anything and take any risk to seek a better life for themselves and their families."
For others, and probably for the majority, economic reasons and perspectives of a better future are the pulling factors. Mr. Ketelers continues to point out these present events like those from off the northeast coast of Africa, in the waters between Somalia and Yemen, and in the desert on the US Mexican border, which show the epic human experience that men and women find themselves in when looking for a better life somewhere else. Mr. Ketelers expressed serious worries about the conditions and the consequences of return for many of these migrants and especially for unaccompanied minors among them.
ICMC believes that the focus should be on preventive measures rather than on the closing of borders. Mr. Ketelers' concerns echo those of the President of the Spanish Bishops' Committee on Migration, Bishop José Sanchez, who said that repatriating sub-Saharan immigrants is not a solution to the migration issue. Bishop Sanchez noted that part of the work of the Church, which is "doing all that it can," is to help to put into action "programmes of co-development in the immigrants' countries of origin to improve the living conditions and address the causes of this phenomenon."
Together with its network of 172 member organizations and other partners worldwide, the ICMC has been working on the important link between migration and development, highlighting to the UN General Assembly in July, "that human rights is the missing link-an indispensable bridge between migration and development." ICMC will again be addressing the General Assembly on this matter at its High Level Dialogue on international migration and development, September 14th and 15th in New York.